It’s no news that Mitsubishi in Australia is struggling. What with sales of the locally-made Magna in free-fall and speculation still rife about the company’s long-term Australian manufacturing presence, Mitsubishi is fighting a battle to retain market credibility and relevance. Part of the company’s fightback is to release new imported product – and the Grandis is one example.
The AUD$43,990 Grandis is a medium/large 7-seater people-mover whose rivals include the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Avensis. In the flesh, the Grandis is a stunning looking car – light-years better than the dumpy Odyssey. The windscreen is raked back at an incredible angle and the headlights and grille flow back over the bonnet to the front glass in one long seductive curve. Together with the heavily tinted glass (all windows rearwards of the front row), alloy wheels, roof rails and huge LED taillights, the Grandis looks fast standing still.
But this styling excitement has a major downside: interior space is poorly packaged. Perhaps most obvious is the enormous dashboard. It seems to consume several cubic metres of cabin volume (it can’t be that much but take a look at its depth!) and that’s all space lost from the occupants. Knee-room in all three rows of seats is tight and the dashboard – especially the centre section – is visually intrusive and easily contacts the driver’s left knee. Stupidly, the radio is placed so distant from the driver that it’s quite impossible to reach it without leaning way forward. And nope, there are no remote controls for the audio system on the steering wheel...
It’s not as if the dash has a multitude of large storage spaces built into it, either. Instead, there’s a weird, lidded and shallow cavity in the middle of its upper surface (for storing what? pancakes?) and otherwise, only small compartments. Even the glovebox is poorly shaped.
On the upside, the blue instruments are clear and the rotary dial climate control system easy to use and effective. (Rear passengers also get air-con controls.) The gear lever, which sprouts from the bulging centre section of the dash, incorporates a sequential up/down trans function. In contrast to the radio, the gearlever falls nicely to hand. Although only a 4-speed, the transmission works very well, the INVECS II system automatically holding gears when travelling either uphill or downhill and making the most of the engine’s meaty torque curve. Steering is by a leather-and-wood wheel which is height-adjustable but cannot be varied for reach.
The MIVEC 2.4-litre (‘MIVEC’ means it has variable valve timing and lift) develops 217Nm at 4000 rpm and has a high average torque output. The engine peaks in power at 121kW at 6000 rpm. One of our drivers approached the car expecting its performance to match its extremely sporting looks – and so was disappointed. However, for a four-cylinder 1660kg people-mover, the performance of the Grandis is good. The factory 0-100 km/h time is listed at 12 seconds but helped by the intelligent trans and the ease with which the driver can over-rule it if desired, the Grandis has plenty of off-the-line acceleration and hill-climbing ability, even on the open road. Incidentally, although the engine switches valve timing and lift at 3600 rpm, the driver cannot feel the changeover – the engine is smoothly powerful from idle to the redline. Listed fuel economy is 10.4 litres/100 km and with plenty of open-road work in the test week, we achieved 9.4 litres/100 km.
As part of our test, we travelled well over 1000 kilometres in one long day of secondary road driving. In these conditions – although admittedly probably atypical of the use many people will put the car to – the Grandis was very impressive. Its ride and handling are excellent, with a sure-footed, long wheelbase feel and the ability to shrug off indifferent road surfaces and buffeting from trucks.
The suspension – front MacPherson struts and a rear semi-trailing arm system – is not startling in its on-paper specs but the on-road composure is very impressive. About the only downsides are that at speed, the steering is a little too light, and that the cruise control doesn’t work with the seamless excellence of most modern systems. As expected from a front-wheel drive in this class, the final handling trait is understeer but it is progressive and doesn’t intrude until quite high cornering levels. The four-wheel disc brakes are equipped with 4-channel ABS.
Despite the limited room available for the front seat occupants, other passengers do rather better in the Grandis. There’s never a surfeit of space – and headroom in the rearmost row is tight - but all the seating positions get cupholders, storage spaces and armrests. The second row passengers can also make use of trays that fold down from the back of the front seats.
For load-carrying versatility, the second row of seats splits and folds 60:40 and the third row of seats does the same on a 50:50 split, allowing the carriage of loads with a reduced number of passengers. The third row of seats can also be individually folded under the floor, giving a flat cargo area.
The Grandis was first released with the option of an extra-cost luxury pack but it is now standard. Flash bits include the wood and leather steering wheel and gear-knob, dual sunroofs (the front one pops up and the rear roof slides back), tinted glass and 16 x 6.5 inch alloys. However, shortfalls include the fitment of only a single CD radio (a stacker is optional) and the absence of a trip computer of any kind. Safety is addressed with six airbags, with the second row passengers protected by curtain airbags.
If you’re after a capacious vehicle capable of carrying seven adults in comfort, the Grandis is not for you - it simply doesn’t have the interior space. (And you really need to go to the next size up of people-movers to get it.) But if on the other hand, you need lots of seats for children and good load carrying versatility, it’s likely that the Grandis will appeal. Certainly, its deficiencies are easily visible on the showroom floor – on the road it drives very well.